The Lair of the White Worm (1988)


What to say about The Lair of the White Worm? It’s wonderful, for starters. On the one hand, I wish that I had seen it years ago, and on the other hand, I’m glad that I managed to miss it for all this time, so I could have the joy of experiencing it fresh when it randomly showed up on Netflix the other day.

Striking the right balance in a horror film can be a surprisingly tricky proposition, especially when you’re dealing with the kind of subject matter that Lair not only deals with but revels in. And while the balance that Lair strikes may or may not be the right balance, it is certainly its own, and I loved it. Violent at times without being grotesque, goofy and over-the-top while at the same time surprisingly subtle. (The characters getting tangled in various white tubing was great.) It has the lurid psychosexual and religious motifs that are apparently the director’s trademarks, and they’re handled in sequences that are often as delightfully surreal as anything I’ve ever seen in a movie. It’s also very, very British, starring a very young Hugh Grant in something like his fourth film role.It’s got a giant monster, snake people, ancient buried evil, myths and legends proving partly true, archaeology, and at least a few lead characters who are in it to solve the mystery. And it’s got maybe the best theme song you’re likely to find in a horror flick:

With a few goofier names thrown in, the story wouldn’t feel out-of-place in Lovecraft’s ouevre, though it would probably be even more at home among the writings of one or another of his less celebrated Weird Tales contemporaries. It actually comes by way of Bram Stoker, with liberal doses of the story of the Lambton Worm (song included).

This was my first direct exposure to Ken Russell, though I’ve heard a lot about him. I hear The Devils is probably his best film, but I have to admit that, after seeing Lair of the White Worm, I’m extremely keen to track down Gothic, about the famous night at the Villa Diodati that gave rise to Frankenstein.

  1. …having finally seen the video:

    Dear god, I don’t know what that was but I need to see the movie now.

  2. I’m glad that you discovered this film. It has been one of the jewels of my vhs collection for a while now. I remember seeing the review on Siskel and Ebert. I don’t remember if they liked it or not, but I’m tempted to say they did. It certainly got me interested.

    • joncarrollthomas said:

      Also, when I was watching it for the first time I was a teen. It was like two in the morning. My dad wandered through on his way to the kitchen during the sacrifice scene. Lady Marsh (wearing nothing but a crazy strap-on) is about to sacrifice that girl (with said strap-on). My dad barely looked at the TV and never brought it up after that.

      • That’s just the optimal time to walk in on that movie, too!

  3. Dude, Amanda Donohoe. In other news: Amanda Donohoe.
    And do see “Gothic”. It’s more of this.

    • Definitely looking forward to GOTHIC. Will report on it here, whenever I finally see it.

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